Hags and Heartfelt Homos -and thank goodness for them, otherwise this year’s Academy Awards would completely have bored us all blind!
The latter category gave the evening its only real substance, with Sean Penn and his MILK screenwriter Dustin Lance Black being gloriously, unabashedly political about gay rights, marriage specifically. (Although was it altogether fair that Black got nominated for Best Original Screenplay? After all, he did not make up the tale of Harvey Milk as, say Courtney Hunt did with FROZEN RIVER, or Andrew Stanton’s WALL-E.
But let’s just cut to those aforementioned Hags, who were far funnier than any of the numerous and repeated lame attempts at scripted humor were the sightings of Goldie Hawn and Sophia Loren, which elicited immediate shrieks of horrified hilarity at the party I attended. The first mentioned actress once received that famous criticism from the late, self-proclaimed fashion arbiter, Mr. Blackwell: “Memo to Goldie Hawn: Cheerleading tryouts were 20 years ago!” Well, you can add a couple of decades to that equation and guess what?
Goldie still hasn’t changed! I imagine the day she cuts off that eternal California bleached mane of straw, removes about eight tons of eyeliner and covers up her pair of now “udderly” droopy girls will be the day Cher goes grey, Oprah ceases the weight-babble, George Hamilton loses the tan and Michael Jackson gets one. You gotta love her – especially as, with a viselike grip, she clutched the arm of gorgeous Supporting Actress winner Penelope Cruz, 29 years her junior, as they walked offstage. Such a change from, say, Lauren Bacall, who, at a party some years back made sure to stay on the opposite end of the room from an 18-year-old flower named Brooke Shields. No way was Betty Jane Perske (Bacall’s real monicker) from Brooklyn gonna be caught anywhere near so much youth and beauty. Even Sylvia Sidney – from The Bronx, born Sophie Koslow – refused to do ALGIERS back in 1938 because she knew being in the same film as Hedy Lamarr making her American debut would have probably ended her career as a leading lady. (Sidney once told me that this refusal cost her the role of Cathy in WUTHERING HEIGHTS, as Walter Wanger who owned the rights and produced ALGIERS, was so pissed off at her, he sold the Emily Bronte tale, planned for her and Charles Boyer, to Sam Goldwyn.)
No such worries concerned La Hawn and you just had to smile, reading that big thought bubble over her head: “Yeah, Penelope! We’re the hottest chicks here! Everyone wants us – look at ’em staring!” As the evening dragged on to ever lower points of ennui and general production cluelessness, I kept yearning for another giggle-inducing shot of her, as with a hit of nitrous oxide.
GOLDIE HAWN (WITH KURT RUSSELL), FUNNIER THAN NITROUS OXIDE
And then there was Loren who, from head to toe, encompassed every Fashion Don’t conceivable. Ten years ago, there was an hysterical photo layout of her in the tabloids. She had shown up for a shopping tour of Harrod’s department store and someone thought it was a good idea that she be greeted by a rare, huge white parrot. Well, the creature took one look at her, probably mistook her for a terrifyingly large bird of prey and proceeded to attack her, knocking her to the floor. That day was a precursor of Oscar Night 2009.
In a wig that looked as if it had been lying in a brown paper bag under the dressing table of some fired drag queen, taken out, and, without so much as a good shake (let alone brushing) plopped onto the poor diva’s head. The face now looks like 30 miles of surgically improved, but, nevertheless, very bad road – she did not collagen her already famously fulsome lips, did she? And that yellow beruffled, painfully young dress – worn with pearls and rhinestones – looked like something Carol Channing might have rejected for a bus & truck tour of HELLO DOLLY!
If Mr. Blackwell hadn’t already been dead, this would have surely killed him – or at least rendered him speechless, for once. Oh well, as Ina Claire stated definitively in NINOTCHKA in a line written by Billy Wilder: “I guess one gets the face one earns.” A karmic revenge, perhaps on Hawn and Loren, for crimes against the Great God Cinema?
In Hawn’s case, one might cite the way she ruined her own film SWING SHIFT which, according to sources like the late critic, Pauline Kael, was terrific in its original Jonathan Demme director’s cut, until an insecure Hawn emasculated him and the movie, turning it into a vacuous star vehicle which ended up bombing.
As for Loren, Franco Zeffirelli never tires of excoriating her for conniving to steal the TWO WOMEN role for which she won a 1961 Oscar, away from originally cast Anna Magnani. Loren was originally set to play Magnani’s daughter, raped by German soldiers in WWII but, when Magnani scoffed at this casting of a then quite mature and fulsome Sophia as an innocent virgin, the great actress found herself 86’ed from the entire project by Loren and her producer husband, Carlo Ponti.
You really have to wonder about both of these women. Have they nobody around them – family or friend – to just say no? Is this the absolute downside to attaining such huge, enduring stardom, akin to that of Bruce Springsteen, and, in his case I don’t mean sartorially speaking. Couldn’t someone have pointed out that, in his rather phoned-in dirge of a theme song for THE WRESTLER, the line “Have you ever seen a one-legged dog?” is just ridiculous, not to mention risible, for the image of some poor hound trying to move, thus handicapped, it conjures up?
And was Hugh Jackman’s deal for thanklessly hosting this meandering behemoth of a show a guarantee that this biggest show tune queen in the universe be granted all those truly hapless production numbers? He has everything it takes to be a huge Broadway star (looks, charm, energy), save one thing: a voice. And that covered, annoyingly nasal bleat hasn’t improved a whit since, awash with laurel wreaths of praise, he came over from the West End to do Rodgers & Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL at Carnegie Hall in 2002, opened his mouth and made me think, “What the ….?!”
WHAT HUGH WANTED TO WEAR TO HOST THE OSCARS
AND WHAT HE SHOULD HAVE WORN
As for Beyonce, she really does have everything it takes, but is it just me, or does anyone else find her more than a tad plastic? She’s synthesized everyone from Diana Ross to Etta James to all the Hollywood glamour queens (whom she has seriously researched at New York’s memorabilia shop, Jerry Ohlinger’s), but the ultimate effect definitely lacks that certain vital originality which makes a really unique star, however much hard work has gone into it. I”ve loved some of her dance music (“Baby Boy,” “Naughty Girl,” even the hiccuping beat of “Crazy in Love”), but, for me, she’s strictly a radio star, but her flailing, stripper-on-a-pole videos have a tendency to “kill” her. (Remember that song?)
DOES THIS WOMAN WORK A LITTLE TOO HARD AT GLAMOUR?
As for Jean Hersholt Award winner/French Idol, Jerry Lewis, admittedly not in the best physical shape, has replaced that overbearing arrogance he was once known for with an overbearing cloyingness (although he now looks more than ready to perform Shakeapeare’s RICHARD III) . The clips shown featured him at his most gratingly grotesque, winning him no new fans among the legions of unimpressed. (How many people at your Oscar party sighed, “I haaate Jerry Lewis!”? Be honest!) Couldn’t the geniuses in charge of clip choosing have shown his hilarious “Buddy Love” scenes from his masterpiece, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, or even that priceless moment in LADIES’ MAN when he singlehandedly destroyed an entire collection of “priceless” Venetian glass, before Kathleen Freeman’s wailing maidservant?
“Now is the winter of our discontent…”
No, those aforementioned geniuses kept screwing it up, especially in the Death Montage, usually the one sure-fire, effective Oscars sequence paying tribute to film folk who have gone on to that great Academy Awards ceremony in the sky. The camera kept returning to Queen Latifah singing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” shattering any kind of dramatic momentum, and the fragmented little jigsaw puzzle clip presentation was unbelievably distracting and markedly less effective than one full screen shot which would have paid iconographic dues to the likes of Paul Newman or Evelyn Keyes.
EVELYN KEYES (1916-2008), as Suellen O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND
And then there was simian, terminally unfunny Ben Stiller doing a cruel, unfunny imitation of the admittedly eccentric Joaquin Phoenix, as he appeared so bizarrely with David Letterman recently. Deja vu definitely set in during this, because the night before, at the Independent Spirit Award, actor Frank Coraci actor did the same thing, much more effectively, if just as cruelly. I recently picked Phoenix as my HUNK OF THE WEEK for his affectingly romantic performance in TWO LOVERS, citing his “undisguised handsomeness.” Well, after Letterman, I’ve had to rather eat those words, as he completely buried himself under a ZZ Top beard, but this is a human being who definitely has some serious issues, which should more evoke sympathy than easy derision. Cut him some slack, people: after all, his brother River died in front of him that tragic 1993 Halloween night at Johnny Depp’s Viper Clib and, hideously, Joaquin’s frantic 911 call was insensitively released to the world. (The poor kid had just turned 19 three days before.)
MOST IMITATED MAN OF THE WEEK
I did like the idea of the five previous winners of acting awards singling out each nominee this year with individual tributes, but wouldn’t it have been nice if they’d done the same for people of “less importance,” like the directors (with, say, Scorsese or Coppola singing praise)? Or, even, God forbid, writers, those lowliest of the low whose work is merely the starting point for everything, and whose speeches might have even had some real eloquence?
In terms of past Oscar winners and, again, film clip choice, it certainly would have been nice if any pre-1954 winners had been featured, thereby imbuing the show with some real historical heft. (You’d never have a clue that silent films once were in the mix, as well.) My God, Luise Rainer only won two in a row back in 1936-37, the first consecutive Oscar winner, and was recently featured in Arthur Dong’s brilliant documentary, HOLLYWOOD CHINESE, and Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine are still alive and alert (although they’d never appear on the same show, we realize).
As for what has become — let’s face it – the most important part of the Oscars, the gowns…
Natalie Portman got my vote for best dressed in her deliciously pink Rodarte and flawless, statuesque grooming, but there was way too much white on the red carpet – a Bridezilla invasion of drag which effectively washed out most of those paler than pale Caucasians. It’s funny how, in the ’30s, even in black and white, wearing dazzling white bias-cut sheaths never erased the gorgeousness of phosphorescent white-blondes like Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard or Constance Bennett. Or was it just because these women were really stars, and uniquely so?
In later years, Grace Kelly was another pale maiden who could carry off a blinding white frock and Best Actress winner Kate Winslet certainly tried to evoke her, especially coiffure-wise. However, anyone who thought her hair was genius, should have their eyes checked. Kelly’s sleek, short bob was flattering, nothing like the cemented helmet covering Winslet’s skull, which looked like the worst offence of the early ’60s, the absolute historical low point for hairdos, all those torturously sprayed, stiff monstrosities which the natural look of hippies and Carnaby Street effectively did away with forever – or so we thought.
COIFFURE OR CRASH HELMET?
KATE’S INSPIRATION: AN UNCEMENTED GRACE KELLY
Winslet’s Yves St. Laurent dress was, like her coiff, a bit of over-designed heavy weather difficult to carry off. I felt rather bad for her, having to do the red carpet solo, as hubby Sam Mendes was already, rather ungallantly, inside the Kodak Theater. Was he miffed that his pretentious yawn of a REVOLUTIONARY ROAD was overlooked this year, or just plain over how much Winslet catered to, and later raved about, co-star Leonardo DiCaprio. It can’t be easy, doing spousal duty, given certain circumstances on nights like these.
Look at Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Broderick: it’s always ALL about her these days, giving poor Ferris Bueller ever more days off…
SARAH JESSICA “I’M SURE MY HUBBY’S HERE SOMEWHERE” PARKER, IN DIOR
THE EVENING’S TWO BIG LOSERS: MERYL STREEP AND SOPHIA LOREN (COME ON, YOU KNOW YOU NEEDED ONE LAST HIT OF SOPHIA!)